The brilliant political analysis you are accustomed to reading in this space is not our only product here at the Blaska Research Center and Experimental Work Farm, located on Madison's storied southwest side.
Midway through a glorious Saturday afternoon, sky high and bright and temperatures refreshing in the mid 50s, I took leave of the day's beautification project to enjoy a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, well chilled. Like the Chairman of the Board would sing, it poured sweet and clear.
Just 12 feet from my backyard patio stands the remnants of a willow tree that bore witness to the approaching creep of the city westward until the vanguard of The Greatest Generation put down payments on the American Dream in the black and white 1950s. Had the Sierra Club scolds been heard back in that day, they might have called our neighborhood "urban sprawl," especially for our nearly half-acre lots. But it has been home to three generations of good American citizens, many with dogs. My house was built in 1954, when Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Arthur Godfrey were primetime and Schlitz poured more beer than Bud.
The tree may have seen the day when the Indigenous People, as our County Board now calls them, were in residence because it reached higher into the sky than almost any feature this side of the St. Maria Goretti bell tower. But no willow can co-exist anywhere within shading distance of rain gutters and downspouts. Twice a year the willow tree clogged those appurtenances - in the spring with a snowstorm of florets and in the fall with tiny leaves and always with an endless shedding of twigs. So I had the beast chopped down by a small crew of arborists who used no booms or ladders, only pulleys and ropes with their chain saws. Manly viewing entertainment, that.
Chopped down but not to ground level. Even after the expenditure of $1,600, each fork of its tridental trunk stands 10 feet high and its trunk is 19 feet in circumference. Its wood has softened some in the last three years and the neighborhood is beginning to move in. A hairy woodpecker was busy at work one foot below the truncated crown, his red-splotched head disappearing into the ever-deepening cavity as I continued my tasting, sans spit bucket, then emerging with a beak full of saw dust, which he expelled to the gravel path below with a vigorous shake of his head.
The entry hole points due south, away from the coming winter's icy blasts and acted, during the tiny creature's exertions, like a guitar's sound hole, amplifying and rounding out the tone of his jack-hammering from somewhere deep inside. By now the industrious architect must have been hollowing out a game room next to the study adjacent to the guest bedroom just off the foyer.
His activity is testament to the wisdom of leaving at least something of a dead tree to remain standing because they don't stay dead for long. Perhaps the owl I have heard in the neighborhood these past two summers will take his own apartment in one of the other two forks.
I am observing all this through low-powered binoculars when in the immediate distance, in between my next-door neighbor's home (they were away at the Badger game) and the new people's house behind it, comes bounding an honest to god, real-life white-tailed deer. It was a doe, I think. Because it did not have a rack but, rather, two horny nubbins. But it was fleet and graceful and I may have spilled some precious wine in my excitement as I attempted to track its streaking progress into and across Orchard Ridge Park behind my gardens and westward across the street toward the cat lady's heavily wooded double lot, now vacant of housing, where, I would like to think, it found congenial surroundings and a tasty twig to eat.
"I'm glad you saw it, too," Marianne told me across the fence that separates our properties.
Like Yogi Berra said, you can see a lot just by looking.
She said I missed the cranes that explored the back yard of the neighbors who live directly across the street a couple of weeks ago. I am guessing Saturday's deer came through the park at the back of their property and its pond, which reaches under the Beltline to the Odana Hills golf course and its pond.
We compared notes of suspicious activities in the neighborhood, which is always a topic of conservation, but this time, only briefly. We are a good eight to 10 blocks east and north of the troubled Loreen and Balsam Street areas. A friend who lives much closer to Loreen told me Saturday that this summer kids vaulted their backyard fences and stomped on the flowers, yard after yard. They stomped on flowers!
But that Saturday afternoon, the deer put my next-door neighbor and I in a such a great mood that I did not mention it.